Because of the events of the past twenty years, the past three especially, the common man and woman, the ordinary Joe, is finally in a position to define American history, which, once upon a time, was reserved for a very few.
I think the Founders had this in mind all the time, only don’t ask the faculties at Harvard or Princeton for second opinions.
This drama has been going on, progressing as it were, for about 100 years. Let’s call this most recent chapter under Obama, about to come to a head, “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Interpreting history is never an easy thing…unless you first have a unified theory, which, as I have pointed out many times, was provided to me by Moses Sands, who passed into the high country in 2006.
Moses believed that it was the common man (and woman) that the Constitution was written for and about. Not the elites, but the common-born masses, on the theory that all the great and wise things that were known then, in 1787, and reserved to a very few since the dawn of time, could someday, through this new vehicle of freedom, the Constitution, be dispersed among millions, without toll, so they could take and use that information more freely and beneficially for all men.
For what’s it’s worth, this political-historical process is a continuation of a theme established by Christ when, in Luke (18: 16-17), He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me…” then “who does not accept the Kingdom of God as a child, shall not enter it.” The rise of the common man simply moves parallel to this stripping away the authority of the religious middle man, and at some point, the two are joined.
We’re not exactly cutting out the middleman, mind you, but we are on the verge of finally putting him in his rightful place.
Some background: At the time of our our revolution in 1776 the best-read men in the West were theologians, historians and natural philosophers. These were all men of letters and they expressed the continuation of traditions that went back to the beginnings of western civilization; to the ancients, Herodotus, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
But if you study how history was transmitted over those two thousand years, it’s important to note who it was written for, and why, for those two things determined its content.
Consider, Edward Gibbon, who, from 1776-1788 completed a History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. A great work, (I’ve only read parts) I doubt Mr Gibbons ever thought for a moment that a trucker’s wife, the daughter of a farmer, in the then-unsettled center of the American continent would ever sit down and read his work…or miracle of miracles, ever interpret it in light of current events in her own time…
…for no other purpose than that’s what some ordinary citizens do in America.
Still, this happens ever day in America, thank you, Mr Gibbon. We all know such people. We all are such people ourselves.
You see, at the time of Gibbon no more than 20% of British subjects were literate, and of those fewer than half were “lettered”, you know, read books for both study and enlightenment. In those days far more people could recite lines from Shakespeare from memory, having seen the play, than ever having read him.
So, if you’re a guy with the insights of a man like Gibbon, and you write a long work, just how do you know if it’s any good? Or well received? Sales couldn’t have been in more than the few hundreds in those days. But what few hundreds, and to whom, that’s the question?
There have probably been more copies of Gibbon printed and sold in the past 50 years than were printed and sold in the entire 18th and 19th centuries combined…a thing Gibbon could never have imagined. But here’s the kicker, the majority of those 20th century printings took place in the colonies that were, at the time, trying to kick his good king George out in order to establish in his royal majesty’s stead, a nation of common men and women who could build libraries so that their children could then visit and read Gibbon.
Go figure. Something no European had ever thought of.
The historian’s power over history has never been entirely fair to the common man.
Even Gibbon, while telling us more about the impact Caesar’s policies had on the people than most historians, he still did not write it for the people’s consumption. He was being bold (for his time) by using his works as a way to show the princes of his day what the likely outcome of certain policies might be, pointing to Rome as a prior example. Machiavelli, and others, did the same. And all took risks in doing so.
But to succeed they must first win the approval of his peers, that small group of 10% who read for edification, so that someone of rank would then whisper in the royal’s ear, who was usually an inbred blithering idiot, especially if living across the Channel in France.
In all ages, the great philosophers and historians (even artists…Mozart hated having to compose his music to the tastes of his patron prince, but that’s how he paid the bills) wrote to please a very few people.
So for them, written history was the comings and goings of kings and their armies, aristocrats and their courts, wars and rumors of wars. Historians purveyed to the few readers who understood those things, paying no attention at all to the rights, or sufferings, of man. Historians saw history from the top down, (think “inside the beltway” to better understand this), for that was how they kept their rice bowl filled. Only oral history saw things from the ground up and in the nature of things, those tales lasted three generation at best.
The common man couldn’t read and wouldn’t understand even if he could. So even as it was the common men and women whose homes were burned, children snatched up and carried away, and daughters raped, who died by starvation, war or the elements, or forced into migration, the masses would only earn a footnote from the historian’s pen while describing Napoleon’s or Alexander’s exploits of conquest.
You can see that being successful in writing then always required a little bias in favor of the audience; the peers, who graded his work, and the nobility he chronicled. In the process, the truth, objective fact, and most importantly, honest interpretation, often suffered.
Which makes the miracle of the Founding Fathers’ insights all the more miraculous, for they built an entire system of government and liberty around people who barely ranked a footnote in history for five thousand years. They had to have it in their minds that history is more fair and more just when written from the bottom up, which America has been working its way toward since 1787.
In short, the Founder’s bet on the come.
Today, I can go into any barbershop and there is that one fellow, slapping that 42″ thigh that he just spent ten minutes trying to throw over his knee, and what he will be doing is interpreting history. He’ll quote Gibbon, von Clausewitz, Samuel Eliot Morison and his great Uncle Zeb. But he’ll often be right.
Or I can go down to a tea party meeting where one of the leaders, who owns a luncheon grille, will stand up and interpret Madison and Hamilton, Jefferson and Article I, Sec 2 of the Constitution, in a way that would make Laurence Tribe and Alan Dershowitz wince, then cause them to cry when they realize more people believe that fellow’s version than they do their own. And he’d be more right, as well.
So, today, it figures, the empire is striking back. It has to. It must tell us who has written the most important books on political philosophy and history, and reward with money and fame the people who write them. We’re steered toward popinjays like Douglas Brinkley and plagiarists like Doris Kearns Goodwin, who write only for this mob, and publishers who purvey only to their peers, while Rush Limbaugh’s books sell millions yet are never mentioned on the New York Times best sellers list, and religious books in the aggregate out-sell almost all non-fiction titles, but can never make that same list.
No matter, the common man quietly reads and interprets events through a process no one knows, with the help of Gibbon far more often than Brinkley, and according to a moral code of survival as ancient as Methuselah.
A Greek Interlude on Class
All this came upon me earlier in the week when I was browsing through a book on “love in ancient Greece.” There was a lengthy chapter on the subject of homosexuality (it’s been in all the papers) which many have been led to believe was a staple of Greek culture.
Two things caught my eye. First, very little was mentioned about adult males or females simply falling in love and spending their lives together. This is the homosexuality we’ve all grown to know in America, and while not grown to approve it, at least grown to look upon less disapprovingly. But most homosexuality in Greece was in fact pederasty, (man-love-boy, NAMBLA stuff), where older men took young boys aged 12-17 (there was even a rhyme laying out what ages were the best) and then went on to announce some very famous Greek names, Socrates, Plato, several of the playwrights, Sophocles, et al, who spoke of it with some praise, and apparently indulged.
The second point, almost as an aside, was the notion that since so many luminaries in ancient Greece had written so nobly about this practice, many later classical Greek scholars had assumed that the practice was widespread and commonplace in Greece, when in fact…
….it was practiced exclusively among the wealthy and educated.
In what most editors would call a throwaway sentence, the writer said, “the common people of Greece would have nothing to do with it”…except occasionally selling a particularly handsome child off to a wealthy solon, a practice that continued in Greece with the Ottomans into the 20th century (and the Belgian wing of the European Parliament as we speak.)
I could go down the decadence trail, which is where Gibbon started out by leading us with Rome, and it is quite racy, but, instead, I want to consider this offhand remark about the common people of Greece and what they practiced, or didn’t practice.
Going back through history, can anyone name any ancient who ever wrote with concern for the poor, when the poor made up 95% of the population? Even when they rose in revolt, as the slave Spartacus did in Rome in the 1st Century AD (a rarity, inasmuch as he was too successful to keep out of their histories) it was to cite the notable efforts of the Caesar to put down the rebellion. Even into the middle ages, we can find almost no mention of the ordinary people, still 95% of the masses, unless we go to England, but in its court records, where ordinary men and women it turns out were important players indeed in keeping the king’s realm peaceful…all because of that damned Magna Carta that empowered them with land and rights other serfs in Europe were denied.
Now I doubt my general opinions about Socrates, Plato and the Greek tragedians has really changed much with this new knowledge. For one, I never liked them much anyway. There are things I did learn from them though. Plato, like Gibbon, never could have believed that a son of coal miner could possibly have studied him, much less critically analyzed him, and helped build a better nation because of him. But while Plato had his own elitist ideas of The Republic, which never really took, the Founders in America had theirs. And theirs did.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if the high school teacher who first introduced me to Socrates and Plato in 11th grade, had any inclination at all that they liked to diddle little boys? I doubt it, but surely his professor at college did, for mine sure did, although he never let on.
He was the head of the Classics Department, and he taught a course on the Greek tragedians. On the first day he assigned seating and arranged it so that all the pretty girls sat in the front and all the guys were scattered in the back. (Girls wore skirts in those days, and most knew, in Dr Demento’s class, how to go from a C to a B just by dressing well.)
(A couple of years later he was summarily but quietly retired, when, the story goes, a particularly unpretty girl, blue jeans, no makeup, and no brassiere, was denied the front row and placed on the back row with the guys to have to try to get her B the hard way. She filed a complaint and the floodgates opened…just proving that Greek lechery is no match for raw, ugly feminism.)
The Empire Strikes Back
Resenting the knowledge the common man yearned, the empire began to strike back around 1900, when the children of those common men who had done uncommonly well in business and industry were sent off to Europe to be educated on pop’s nickle.
(We’re seeing a tiny version of that now, with Occupy, except it’s being done on pop’s alimony.)
Now, I’ve described over the years the penis envy Marx and academicians had for the builders in our world, but to indoctrinate the children and grandchildren of the poor and lowborn required a different touch. It required a deft skill to teach children to stand up on the shoulders they’d been lounging all their lives, then unzip their pants and pee all over their forbears’ backsides.
But that’s what they did. Unlike the academicians of Europe, rich American children had to be taught that ingratitude is a virtue…and this process has been going on, full blast, since 1900 at least, using all the academic elements of snobbery to pull it off.
Socrates raped young boys his way, modern academic pedophiles raped them theirs.
If you’ve been to the History channel you can tell which programs are trying to lead you into a conclusion, one you may not even think true, and the ones which only want to broaden your understanding. Thank the Founders that you have this sense of discrimination. Once upon a time you didn’t get to judge, you didn’t get to know there was another side to the story being presented to you. You had to rely on the truth and veracity of your teacher.
The Founders changed all that.
And today, we’re the generation that actually gets to make life and death decisions based on our interpretation of events. History sits in our laps.
So, the Final Battle is laid out, and for some of us, just like 1862, it will be brother against brother and father against son.
History belongs to the People. Let’s not give it back.